Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Joe 90 and Stevie Glee put a (temporary) smile on Liverpool FC

England's Joe Cole in action..FIFA World Cup 2010 Group C..Slovenia v England..23rd June, 2010.

JOE 90 (grand a week)

IT’S been a whirlwind few days for Liverpool, culminating in the signing of Joe Cole, the commitment of Steven Gerrard to the club (finally) and now the announcement of a deal for Danny Wilson, the 18-year-old centre half from Rangers.

Whatever way you look at it, all of the above is good news for Liverpool.

It’s created a much-needed air of positivity around the club amid the lingering stench of Tom Hicks and George Gillett, and while off the pitch things seem as chaotic and uncertain as ever, at least on it there are some reasons to be cheerful.

Cole fills the gap in the squad left by the recent departure of Yossi Benayoun, offering the same versatility of being to play across the midfield or ‘in the hole’.

There’s not a great deal to choose between the two for me and while there’s euphoria from some fans - and fanciful talk of 'new eras' from some of our ex-players - the signing comes with an element of risk given the relatively recent cruciate ligament injury which kept him out for nine months.

West Ham are said to have offered Cole a bigger pay packet, while Manchester City, Spurs and Arsenal all tried to lure him. Not that he’s come cheap. Free transfer he maybe (Liverpool’s third of 2010 after Maxi Rodriguez and Milan Jovanovic) but a four-year contract at around £4.7million a year could suddenly feel like a very long time, and an awful lot of money, if he fails to rediscover his form and fitness.

Wilson is someone Rafa Benitez targeted, and comes highly rated in Scotland. He’s left-footed but at 18 it would be a surprise if he was instantly pitched into regular Premier League action.

It goes without saying that Gerrard’s commitment is a positive, and hopefully he can rediscover the form we all know he is capable of. A similar soundbite from Fernando Torres would also put minds at rest as his continued silence on the subject of his future remains a concern with Chelsea waiting in the wings.

Add Jonjo Shelvey and Milan Jovanovic to the mix, both deals struck by Benitez, and there seems to be some welcome options and permutations in midfield that bode well for the coming season.

The transfer kitty remains a concern though and it’s on that subject that, as ever, eyes turn to our beloved boardroom.

With the departure of Emiliano Insua imminent – following Fabio Aurelio and Andrea Dossena out of the exit door - a specialist left back is still a must.

But how much is left in the kitty to find the one, ideally two, players to cover that position?

Benayoun left for £5 to £6million depending on what newspaper you read, and Insua and Albert Riera are set to leave for similar figures. According to The Guardian, all three deals were struck before the arrival of Roy Hodgson, who even admitted liking Insua but is seemingly powerless to prevent the transfer going through.

So there’s £15m in for starters. Add Dossena (£4.5m) and Andrei Voronin (£2million), who both departed in January and you would expect there to still be some cash available.

Yet Duncan Castles in the Sunday Times suggested the budget for player purchases could be as little as £3million before player sales.

Of course there was the reported £6million severance fee for Benitez and £2m compensation for his replacement Hodgson to pay which no doubt ate into that figure.

Wilson has cost £2m rising to £5m, while Cole’s wages will also come out of the kitty, a puzzling development which no Liverpool fan can recall every happening at the club before the current regime took charge.

IF there’s money remaining for a left back (not to mention a striker) it could be Hodgson’s first signing as Liverpool manager.

Because so far, he appears to have had very little to do with the transfers, in and out.

Even Cole appears to be the work of someone else. Hodgson admitted that Jamie Carragher and Gerrard had persuaded Cole to come to Anfield during the World Cup. Yet Hodgson wasn’t manager at that point, so who told the players Cole was a target?

Christian Purslow, the club’s managing director, seems the best guess as he’s been name-checked too many times by Hodgson not to be involved (the conversation with Torres and the Cole deal being two examples).

That a boardroom suit should be playing fantasy football manager with the club’s limited finances is concerning yet one senior national journalist recently got in touch with me to say directors making signings in football independent of the manager’s input is far from uncommon.

I find that staggering. And while I have no reason to doubt the journalist, I do wonder how much of such interference Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho or Arsene Wenger would tolerate.

Perhaps the said suit should concentrate on what he was brought to the club for – to bring in investment.

In an interview with Director Magazine, Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton said: “Seventh is not Liverpool’s rightful position, and neither is administration.”

That the ‘a’ word is mentioned should send a shudder down the spine of every Liverpool fan. As should David Bick, chairman of Square 1 consulting and an expert in football finance, warning on Sky Sports that Liverpool face “insolvency issues” unless a buyer is found soon.

His point is that the club is being propped up by short-term bank loans, and that a change of direction in ownership is needed fast to arrest a worrying plummet towards financial armageddon - a fall that no amount of ship steadying from Hodgson, or Englishness from Cole, can halt.

In a recent open letter, Bick chillingly concluded: “Once decline becomes precipitous, even money may not prevent the decline spiralling into permanency.”

Cole, Gerrard, Jovanovic, Shelvey and Wilson are good news. The overall picture, still, is not.